‘Last hurrah’

GJ grad Swartzendruber to retire after today's Premier Development League title game

Brandon Swartzendruber chips the ball past the goalkeeper to score for the Thunder Bay Chill in this 2008 file photo. Swartzendruber and the Chill will play for the Premier Development League title today. After the game, Swartzendruber will hang up his playing cleats.

Everything is coming full circle for Brandon Swartzendruber.

The 32-year-old Grand Junction High School graduate, who starred for the Tigers before excelling in college and professional soccer, will be playing for a championship today.

This will be his third shot at a title, playing for the Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada) Chill in the 72-team Premier Development League.

He’s hoping the “third time is a charm” saying will ring true for another reason: he’s retiring after the game.

“A lot of it is just that I’m getting older,” he said by phone Thursday. “I’m not the same player I once was and have to play a different style now. I can’t run as much as I used to, which bothers me because I used to be the guy who came in from behind to score all the time.

“For me, this is a last hurrah.”

Swartzendruber hopes his last hurrah will be a positive one when the Chill faces the Charlotte Eagles in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 1 p.m. MDT. He’s had plenty of good moments during his professional career. His 70 goals in six years with the club is a franchise record, and he’s the only member of the team who was with the squad when it won its only PDL championship in 2008.

“When I first came to Thunder Bay, I really thought this place would be a stepping stone for me,” Swartzendruber said. “But I fell in love with this team and, looking back, some of the best times of my life have been spent here. And with this team, if we win, it would kind of let me move on without having to feel like I have to go back and do this all over again.”

His career hasn’t been exclusively in the Canadian province. Swartzendruber has also played for the United Soccer League’s Harrisburg City Islanders in Pennsylvania, Dayton Dutch Lions in Ohio and Arizona United, but he always found his way back to Thunder Bay.

Swartzendruber said he had an offer to play for a USL team in Minnesota prior to the 2008 season, but turned it down and scored 13 goals for the Chill. He also returned to Thunder Bay in 2010 after one season in Harrisburg, but Thunder Bay lost the PDL title game to the Portland Timbers U23 team.

His final stint with the Chill hasn’t been as productive as past years. He’s scored four goals — three of them in Thunder Bay’s 5-0 victory against WSA Winnipeg on June 23 — with three assists and 11 shots on goal. He didn’t start during the team’s 1-0 semifinal victory at FC Golden State Force (California) on July 29 but helped spark the defensive-minded Chill’s offense during his 47 minutes as an injury replacement.

“My teammates told me that as soon as I came in, the attack totally changed,” said Swartzendruber, who will be the team’s starting striker in today’s game.

Swartzendruber’s first youth soccer action came with the Grand Mesa Fire. He went to Chandler-Gilbert Community College (Arizona) for his first two years after high school before finishing college at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he was a Division II All-American. He was a Class 5A first-team all-state player for the Tigers during his senior season, helping Grand Junction win the Southwestern League title before the Tigers were eliminated by eventual state champion Columbine in the state playoffs.

He’s been preparing for life after professional soccer, noting he has an online marketing business he’d like to invest more time in, but his ultimate goal is to catch on as a coach somewhere.

Until then, he has one more game to play.

“I’ll probably exhaust everything I have left in the tank,” Swartzendruber said with a laugh. “Headed into this, I have this kind of destiny feeling that this one last game is my last chance to prove what kind of player I am.”


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